Felt is the oldest form of fabric in existence. It predates weaving and braiding. Felt is produced by matting natural fibres together with moisture and friction. Felt can be very firm or very soft depending on how densely it has been pressed.
Felt is usually made from animal fibres such as fur and wool. It is also possible to make synthetic felt, but this is not ideal for complex work like blocking and shaping.
Felt is ideal for pattern hats, blocking and trimmings. It naturally moulds into shape under pressure and moisture, so it can be used to form hat hoods in any shape. Many classic men's hats are made from felt.
Felt is usually manufactured in flat sheets, but milliners prefer to work with felt 'hoods'. These are felt pieces in a dome shape, in the rough size of the desired hat. These can be wide-brimmed - 'capelines' - or short-brimmed - 'cones' or 'sleeves'. The hood must then be blocked to form the final shape of the hat.
Here are some of the amazing hats that have been produced with felt. The hats shown below which feature repeating patterns and shapes are using a technique taught by internationally-renowned Dutch milliner Eugenie van Oirschot. Eugenie has taught a number of guest workshops at Torb & Reiner. Her website is at http://lunehats.nl.